May 2010


Martel Maxwell’s first novel Scandalous is a romantic comedy about two sisters, one of whom is a showbiz writer like Maxwell. She has interviewed scores of stars including Tom Cruise, Kylie Minogue, Sir Sean Connery and Nicole Kidman. She is now a freelance radio and television presenter and writes a weekly opinion column for the Scottish Sun. (Interview by Angela Smith)

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  1. 1. Tell us about your new book Scandalous.

    It’s my debut novel and incredibly exciting for me. Scandalous is a romantic comedy lifting the lid on London’s showbiz scene. I used to be a showbiz reporter for The Sun so I’ve poured my experiences into it. Piers Morgan thinks it’s a great portrayal of Planet Showbiz which makes me happy – he started off as an entertainment writer too so that means a lot.

  2. 2. The main characters, Lucy and Max, are so different. Are they based on anyone you know or have met?

    Max is like the version of me I’d like to be – gorgeous, no cellulite. But she’s flawed, constantly nursing a hangover because she’s paid to party. So much of what happens to her happened to me when I was a showbiz writer like her. Lucy had to be totally different to Max so she’s organised, tall, blonde, poised and ‘together’ – we all know and envy girls like that.

  3. 3. How much of your book is realistic?

    Hopefully it’s all realistic. You know what? The things you might consider too crazy to have happened in real life are the very things that are loosely based on real events – like Max, I really did once wet myself in front of Tom Cruise. I kid you not. The ‘couldn’t make it up’ things that happen to Shagger Sheri the kiss-and-tell girl? Many of them have their roots from real experience. The best bit of feedback I’ve had is that Scandalous offers a realistic insight into the world of journalism and showbiz. That’s what I wanted. So much of my real pub stories are there.

  4. 4. How important do you think villains are in a story?

    Incredibly important. When you have charming, lovely characters you have to balance the light with some darkness. My personal preference is not to have a cast of characters that are all sweetness and light – I don’t like my chick lit too frothy. And there are bad people out there so it adds to the story being realistic. My baddie Lady Bridget Beames is a horror of a human being and God I loved being her. If she was in pantomime she’d be the Ice Queen. She’s so extreme and will basically do anything to get her ex back. It was a joy being her because (I hope) it’s nothing like me and I got to be someone totally different. That said, we all have a dark side and that’s interesting to explore. There are a few other characters with dark sides – the kiss and tell girl, the Hollywood lothario Kirk Kelner, but they have a good side too, not nearly as extreme as Bridget.

  5. 5. How did you get into showbiz reporting?

    I studied law because I always wanted to be a criminal lawyer (and as the first person from my family to go to university, law seemed a posh option) but it was hardly like LA Law I’d watched as a kid. It was more getting shoplifters off and bringing them fags in prison. So I applied to every national newspaper in the country. This led to getting The Sun’s first graduate traineeship which lasted two years. They then offered me a staff job as a city reporter which was a disaster given I wasn’t allowed to study Higher Maths in Scotland (like A Level in England)..but I did party an awful lot because I was so excited to be in London. I brought in a few stories to the showbiz editor Dominic Mohan who now edits the paper and I landed a job reporting on showbiz. My natural home! Being half Irish and half Scots, I’m never first to leave a free bar (and that’s what life was for years with premieres and launches every night) - in fact, I’m normally last to leave. Despite studying law, it’s when writing I always felt alive – in English class at school, I remember creative writing seemed like fun, not work. My first real job was as a writer for The Sun so I guess I’ve always been a writer. I’m so happy I discovered novels are what I love writing. I’m a professional daydreamer so writing for five hours feels like half an hour.

  6. 6. What made you decide to write a book based around your showbiz experiences?

    I knew I could write a realistic account of being a showbiz reporter. I couldn’t think of a book that had done it in fiction. I didn’t have to go off and research what it was like to be a teacher or nurse. It was all in my head. I know how my own girlfriends pour over the pages of Heat and Closer and thought girls would love to read how it really is in a whole book.

  7. 7. If Scandalous was made into a movie what actors would you like to see play the roles of Max, Lucy, Hartley, Bridget and Luke?

    Oooh that’s a tough one. Isla Fisher for Max – petite, redhead, funny, cheeky. Someone tall, blonde and elegant for Lucy. Gwyneth Paltrow maybe though only if her hair was long. Maybe someone less well-known. Luke? Bradley Cooper (if I could go back in time Brad Pitt in Meet Joe Black) Hartley, someone a little more real – I’m stumped. It will no doubt come to me at 2am in some bar. I’ll be sure to call you!

  8. 8. Who was your favourite celebrity to interview? Who was your least favourite?

    Celebs are only ever a nightmare to interview if they are rude (though that can result in a great story) or worse if they are boring. Then you’ve got nothing to tell the boss. Rachel Stevens didn’t give good copy – that means she didn’t say much of interest. Maybe too gorgeous to be interesting. Martine McCutcheon wasn’t particularly pleasant. Either was Mark Lamarr. Generally though I had great experiences with stars. Favourite? Will Smith was a gem and got me out of a spot of bother after I asked Angelina Jolie a tricky question (rumours were flying about her and Brad Pitt but he was still with Jennifer Aniston). I asked in front of hundreds of writers whether they gossip was true. She looked furious. But Will Smith, who was at the Cannes Film Festival with her to promote Shark Tale, lightened the mood by telling Angelina to tell the girl from The Sun “if she’d shagged Brad Pitt”. Angelina laughed (she kind of had to at this point) and said no, of course not. Another sweetie is Eamonn Holmes, he’s the consummate pro and loves helping people starting out which means a great deal.

  9. 9. Do you find our celebrity-obsessed culture to be over the top?

    Of course but it’s nothing incredibly new. We might be at war but the top hits on newspaper websites are celeb stories. It’s also a bit of escapism. It’s a bit depressing so many young people think being a celebrity is the ultimate goal in life though. If they realised how fleeting it is, how unhappy and fickle a world it can be they’d think twice. That said, it’s hard not to buy into the fairytales we see in Hello magazine with dream weddings and luxury yachts. But what lurks beneath is not always pretty.

  10. 10. Who or what inspires your writing?

    Apart the fact I’m a born daydreamer-borderline-fantasist and love making up stories, actually living and getting great experiences to write about. This could be gate-crashing an A-list party and I think ‘hey, this is a great chapter’ because it’s something that’s not in the remit of normal day-to-day life. They want to know how Brad Pitt looked, how he smells – everything and I’m inspired by telling that story vividly so it stays with the reader. I like the idea of making people laugh too with the absurdity of dating stories and the mad celeb world.

  11. 11. What do you consider the most challenging about writing a novel?

    I guess it’s different for everyone. For me, the hardest part is actually sitting down to do it. Once I commit to that, I can sit for hours which fly by like it was minutes. But finding the motivation when you are doing other jobs (I present radio and TV as well as a weekly column in The Scottish Sun) is hard. I’m freelance so you take the paid work when you get it to pay the bills. The fairytale is you’re given a huge advance to write a book and can afford to escape to the Bahamas to write for a few months. If I could do that, I’d knock out novels like there was no tomorrow!

  12. 12. Have you ever experienced writer’s block? If so, what did you do to get rid of it?

    Yes, similarly to the answer above, it’s when I find I’m too busy to write. I’m actually going to remedy this in a couple of weeks by taking myself off to Thailand for a writing holiday so I can finish Book 2. I’ve taken myself to a quiet cottage in the Highlands to write and in winter, go home to mum in Dundee and she puts on a log fire and hands me a glass of wine and shuts the lounge door. That helps!

  13. 13. If you could live your life over, is there anything you'd change?

    Nope, no point in regrets. They eat you up. I’ve done things that were not great for me but you learn something from everything you do. If you feel you should have done something, wake up tomorrow and do it. Ha, I sound so positive. It’s not always the case but really, where do regrets get you?

  14. 14. What do you like to do when you're not writing?

    As you’ve probably gathered, partying. I love being with great friends and meeting new people – not to mention getting in parties I shouldn’t be at - so most scenarios I like. And a lovely dinner you can’t beat. I’m very close to my mum and sister so love hanging out with them. I go through stages of being good with exercise and love the way I feel when I do get off my bum and run, walk or go to the gym. I also like tennis. I read, I adore music too.

  15. 15. What is one thing you'd like to learn to do?

    Ride a horse. It seems so romantic and I think it would make you feel incredibly free galloping in the wind. I wouldn’t mind learning the art of being very disciplined too. But then, that might be a bit dull.

  16. 16. What is your favourite chick lit book?

    It’s not exactly recent but you can’t beat Riders by Jilly Cooper. I remember reading it when I was young and being hooked – I felt like I was being allowed into this naughty, exciting club.

  17. 17. What is your favourite and least favourite qualities about yourself?

    Quite a few ‘worsts’ – my lack of patience is up there, lack of discipline at times too. Last night I ate three chocolate bars and bowl of banana fritters. I like the fire I have in my belly, something I think comes from mum who brought me up herself. It taught me the importance of going for things and trying.

  18. 18. What is your favourite quote?

    “Do not allow your life to represent anything but the grandest version of the greatest vision you ever had about who you are.” A Google search reveals Neale Donald Walsh said this. But it was a gorgeous guy called Mark I spent time with when last in Thailand who had a sign saying this at the entrance to his beach house. It stuck.

  19. 19. What are you most proud of accomplishing so far in your life?

    Getting my novel published with Michael Joseph at Penguin blows me away. Making mum proud and being a good sister to very younger sister Holly.

  20. 20. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

    Do it. Finish the book. So many people seem to start out, write a few chapters and stop. Have something you are proud to send out in its entirety and you can’t have those ‘what if’ thoughts. Be confident the story you have to tell is worth telling.

  21. 21. What's next for you? Will you write another book or go back to your journalist roots?

    I guess being a journalist never leaves you but I’ve not been a reporter – ie getting stories about other people – for a few years now. I write opinion pieces and do TV and radio. I love doing this. But it’s all about Book 2. I’m two-thirds of the way through. I’ll finish it and then go over it all again and make it better. It’s similar to Scandalous in that it’s about a showbiz writer for a magazine. But the storyline is completely different.

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